GTPulse: Local Artist Creates Michigan Inspired Watercolors While Living With Blindness
What would you do if a doctor told you that after undergoing surgery you would be blind for the rest of your life?
Michael Sincic was 13 years old when a doctor told him exactly that.
Before being faced with blindness, Michael was like any other 13-year-old. He went to school, hung out with friends, enjoyed going to the movies, and in his free time, liked to sketch cartoons. It wasn’t until his late adolescence that he started experiencing symptoms that started to bring distress to his body and his day to day life.
“I started getting headaches, and whack outs, and to me it felt like the doctors just kept saying, ‘try this, try this.’”
Doctors were dumbfounded as to what was going on and it wasn’t until Michael started seeing double vision that he felt enough was enough.
“My parents were like, ‘Alright this is getting out of hand.’ So we went to a new doctor that had just opened a practice in Acme and he ordered an MRI. After the MRI we went to a movie, my mom, brother, and a couple of friends. When we got home my dad was standing in the driveway trying to get ahold of the movie theater. At that time, both my parents didn’t have a cell phone.”
The doctors had called back with test results from the MRI. Michael had a brain tumor, and the doctors didn’t think that he would be able to function on his own or have much longer to live. A shunt was put in immediately to relieve pressure, and following that procedure, the surgeon told Michael that beyond that, there was nothing else that could be done.
“He said I had three weeks to live. It was frightening because my parents weren’t in the room. It took a little while to calm down. My parents just kept saying, ‘Everything is going to be ok. We just have to figure things out. You just have to believe.’”
Between his parents and his uncle who’s a nurse practitioner, they found specialists from many different hospitals and they all told him that surgery, not radiation, would be the best way to attack the tumor.
“All these surgery hospitals said this doctor in New York was the one to do it. He was on vacation at the time, but when he heard about my situation he called me on his cell phone and said, ‘I’m not at the hospital but I’ll call you first thing tomorrow morning after I look at the films.’”
Michael and his family’s hope was riding on this doctor’s ableness to take on the surgery, and when he called the next morning he told Michael to come to New York. He could do it.
“It was really relieving and just, pretty amazing.”
The tumor was as large as a man’s fist when he found out about it, and it was going to be a challenge to remove, but it was the surgery or his life. Before the surgery, Michael was told that he would lose his vision so he could prepare himself. But how can one prepare for something like that? Especially a teen. With all of his mental and emotional energy going towards mortality, he hadn’t put much thought into what life would be like as a person with blindness. He woke up from the surgery and opened his eyes, only to realize that for the rest of his life, it would feel like they were closed.
“Yeah he had told me that I was going to lose my vision, but when I woke up I was kind of freaking out.”
It was disorienting to not know what his surroundings were, or who was there. For a while after the surgery, Michael had an aversion to learning the ropes to his new world. Things like learning to walk with a cane, and braille were going to become necessary for daily life, but that notion didn’t motivate him at the time.
“It took me probably about two years to really realize that this is my life and I need to better myself. Even after the training, it took a while after that to accept…I am blind.”
“I hadn’t ever really done any painting. So I started working with an art therapist where we did more abstract stuff, but it was watercolors. I just really like the feel of them.”
He stuck with painting abstract art at first but didn’t really like it. He couldn’t picture what the end product looked like.
“I took a pipe cleaner and bent it in a circle and painted inside the circle red. Before I pulled it away and kept my fingers at the top and painted a brown stem. It was an apple, that was my first so-called painting that wasn’t abstract. So I just started learning more and more techniques.”
He works with pipe cleaners still and has picked up other tricks like using masking tape to mark off horizons. He also uses a kind of paint that when dry, can cleanly lift away from the paper like a thick sticker. Oftentimes he’ll use this and paint a sky over it to define a sun or moon.
“A lot of watercolors use it, but for me, it’s an especially helpful technique and tool to use.”
Instead of getting visually inspired, Michael draws inspiration when friends describe a setting to him. His art depicts Northern Michigan in a dreamy, authentic way that is a testament to his friends’ words, and Micheal’s artistic ability.
Nature is an inspiration to Michael because it’s a sensory experience that he still is able to enjoy. The simple indulgence of feeling a mild breeze or hearing soft sounds of branches rustling doesn’t escape him.
“I enjoy it. I’m not a nature buff, and I don’t walk around alone in the woods. That’s not one of the smartest things a blind person could be doing,” he said with a chuckle. “When I was a kid and I had vision I used to get up early in the morning and go sit outside and enjoy the sun rising and stuff like that. So a lot of that inspires me.”
Gratefulness is something that everyone struggles with, and I wondered to Michael if he ever does, especially coming from a place where day to day life is more difficult to navigate for him.
“I believe in God so that helps out a lot. In my office sometimes I’ll be working on something and I’ll know that a tool is right there but I can’t find it so it drives me nuts. I just stop and take a break, take a breath, and calm myself down. Painting is a huge therapy for me. You get lost in time when you’re working on a painting.”
Michael’s has been featured in galleries throughout Northern Michigan and is available for purchase through his Facebook page Michael Sincic Art.
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